What the data – and the candidates – say about where everyone went It’s something we keep hearing, and not just because we’re in the volume recruitment game – where, oh where, are all the GD candidates? Everyone's battling to get more people into the top of their funnel so they’re not forced to go with just whoever shows up.

Search online, and there’s a lot to show that unemployment is at a record low and the job market is red hot in both Aussie and NZ, but it’s clear that the reasons why are a bit more complex than ‘COVID’ and ‘immigration’. 

So, with our massive candidate database, a recent research paper and chat pulled from online, we’ve put together our own theories – and what you can do about them . 

It’s mostly about the wages

High-volume roles have been kept at or close to minimum wage for decades. In Australia, that’s recently gone up a smidge from $20.33 to $21.38 an hour, but some put the living wage at $25 – that’s a weekly shortfall of $144.8 for a full-time worker who needs the essentials. The numbers are a bit better in NZ, with the living wage calculated at $22.75 and the minimum wage at $21.20 an hour – unless you’re ‘starting out’, in which case you’ll get a measly $16.96. As the cost of living climbs higher, minimum wage will move even further away from an income you can survive on.  

What to do:

An easy way to get more people applying? Make the wages worth working for, and then talk about it in your job ads and all your employer comms. 

Immigration is way, way down 

Yes, we know we said it was more nuanced than just ‘immigration’, but the closed border does play into it. Wages for volume roles have always been low, but that’s long been propped up by migrant workers who, traditionally, have been far more willing to work for less. With our flow of migrants still a trickle, that downward pressure has come back to bite. Australia welcomed 250,000 migrants in 2019 – they lost 5400 in 2020 and 1470 in 2021.  

What do to

Again (sorry), we think this is a wage issue. If we want non-migrants to work, we need to pay them what they think is fair. As one sarcastic commentator put it, "If only there were some answer for businesses struggling to attract staff. There must be something…"

People have found other work

Despite the lack of migrants being a factor for other sectors, it doesn’t appear to be as critical a factor for high-volume retail – one Australian retail client saw little shift in the number of migrant applications. It’s more likely that many non-migrant workers found other careers during the lockdowns, significantly reducing the pool. That seems to be the feeling – "Rising cost of living means most people who don't want to live in poverty are upskilling,” said one commentator. 

What to do

Double down on the next wave of teens entering the workforce, and ask yourself how you can make retail more attractive. Where to start? One candidate summed up the issues quite nicely: 

"They get a lot of abuse (especially women), making it an undesirable industry to stay in. Low wages. Wage theft. Casual contracts.” If you can fix even some of those things, you’ll have a better chance of bringing in people. 

A shift in shift work

The reducing candidate pool means shift work is less predictable, making it a less attractive prospect for candidates. Employees want to know when they’re likely to be working and for how long so they can plan their lives around it – understandable, really. The fact that people can also be surprised by split shifts or hours on nights or weekends can be a deal-breaker too.

One candidate said: “Hospo and retail have always been generally shit industries to work in. The pay’s shit, you’re often required weekends and nights, and there’s little room to move up. Sick days and annual leave aren’t as easy to take as they are in other industries, and you get made to feel bad for not being at work even with notice.”

What to do

The reality of shift work is that people will need to work weekends, nights and cover, but think about how you can make that easier on people. Perhaps it’s incentives for people who take on extra shifts, or feel-good moments to get them through. 

Everyone is after the same teenagers – who are less experienced 

According to our data, applicants are coming with less prior retail experience on average than before COVID-19. This is almost certainly associated with candidate scarcity – employers are snapping up experienced staff for more senior roles before they even apply. 

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And the average age of teenagers has gone up. We’re still talking young people here, just not as young. For one of our clients, almost 60% of candidates were 18 or under. In 2022, only 40% were under 18, with the number of 24-year-olds almost doubling. 

We suspect this marked shift comes from a combination of two factors. During the pandemic, more parents will have discouraged younger folk from doing customer-facing retail work. With the increased risk, that’s understandable. Now, two years older, those same teenagers will be applying. 

We’ve also seen adults displaced from industries like hospitality and tourism switching careers and raising the average age. 

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And the people left over are those teenagers. "It’s a Sleeping Beauty problem. They went to sleep for two years and woke up and assumed nothing had changed, so rolled out the same old wages and conditions," says one commentator. 

What to do

All those best-practice high-volume things you know you should be doing? Start doing them. Build a talent community and think about marketing to candidates in different places. Juice up your social presence, make sure your employer brand and careers page are world-class, and super-streamline your application process. Candidates are almost certainly applying for more than just your role, so if you can whisk them through with the shortest time to hire, you’ll win the best people. 

Flex with the market and reap the rewards

If you can nail your candidate sourcing in this market, the sky is the absolute limit. Tweak the wages and working conditions, then shout about it! That’ll get people into your funnel, where your streamlined application process will take them through fast. 

Hopefully, we’ll look back at this as a bizarre blip, and all the candidates will be back soon. But putting in the work now to win in this market will set you up for unbelievable success when things come right again. 

See how Weirdly can help you with the application part – book a demo.